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Scott Pearson

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer offers the public a great resource by sharing data on public school spending (at the school level) across the District. As with any financial data, though, the fine print is as important as the headline. 

The map says that D.C.’s public charter schools had a total operating expenditure of $18,150 per pupil in the 2011–12 school year, compared with total operating expenditure at D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) of $15,473. But this is misleading. Many public charter schools rent their space, and rental payments are considered operating expenses. Meanwhile, school-system buildings are decades old and are almost exclusively paid for from the city’s capital budget—which is not included in the comparison. Moreover, more than $1,000 per pupil of DCPS maintenance expenses are provided free by the city—these expenditures aren’t included either. 

The fine print found in the Fordham Institute map describes the real situation—public charter schools receive less money per pupil than DCPS. This disparity is carefully documented in a 2012 study commissioned by two charter advocacy groups. It found that the total amount of extra non-uniform local operating funds DCPS receives compared to public charter schools ranges from $72 to $127 million annually. The report also makes the case for why some of these disparities exist, noting that charters are schools of choice, while “DCPS operates as a system of right, which requires schools be available across the city to...

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NEA FLEXES POLITICAL MUSCLES
The National Education Association Advocacy Fund, the Super PAC of the country's largest teachers’ union, has spent more than $11 million in midterm campaign efforts, including $3.6 million in media and advertising. 

SPENDING RACE
Elsewhere in the exciting world of politics: Educational funding is playing a major role in Florida's gubernatorial campaign, as incumbent Governor Rick Scott and his challenger, former Governor Charlie Crist, vie to pledge more money for K–12 schools. In fact, Mr. Crist has promised to set a state record for per-pupil spending.

FLORIDA BONUS ROUND
The tight race for governor is also a fascinating backdrop for the Common Core debate. A long overview ran in the Tampa Bay Times last month, but the gist is that the standards were initially adopted in the Sunshine State—as in so many others—to little fanfare. A few years later, Governor Scott is sending his advisers to meet with anti-Common Core groups, while opponent Crist backs the standards unreservedly. 

LOWER LEARNING
Recently released poll data from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni revealed a wide discrepancy in what core subjects college students are required to take. Among the findings: A scant 18 percent of schools require their students to take American history in order to graduate....

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  1. You would think that interest in the 2013-14 school report cards would be waning by now, a few weeks after publication, and you’d be right. The PD, fresh from breaking the news that things actually are improving measurably in Cleveland schools, is already turning its attention to next year’s report cards, noting that the introduction of PARCC exams may delay results by months…a lot of them. Part of the anticipated delay is that state education officials want to wait to see how kids did on the tests before determining new cut scores, and therefore the report card results for test scores. Luckily, Fordham’s Aaron Churchill was there to set the record straight: most schools should brace for some lower-than-average performance. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. This is the story of John Carter, 24, of West Carrollton, a man who not only beat the odds to simply survive but also took good advantage of all the assistance and opportunities available to him to thrive. There are a lot of players in his story, including his family, a local church, a charter school, and Sinclair Community College. But the story, and the success he is making of his life against some long odds, is entirely his. Congratulations, Mr. Carter. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  3. Last night’s “Evening with Teachers” edition of Ohio’s Common Core repeal hearings was a bit of a fizzle. In the end, not many teachers opposed to Common Core got to speak, at least one who did had been
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BIGGER IS BETTER
new study highlights the importance of even earlier early education, finding that having a higher birth weight leads to higher cognitive development. “Weight, of course, may partly be an indicator of broader fetal health, but it seems to be a meaningful one: The chunkier the baby, the better it does on average, all the way up to almost 10 pounds.” But birth weight is not the be-all and end-all: Researcher David Figlio was 5 pounds, 15 ounces at birth.

DUELING BANJOS ON THE HELP COMMITTEE
Which senator played the washboard with a spoon in a banjo band? It's a question the Politics K–12 duo asks in a quiz of (useful) facts about the likely heads of the next Senate HELP Committee. The primer matters to wonks because, “[n]o matter which party comes out ahead on Election Day, the Senate's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will have a new leader.”

COMMON CORE AND GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS
Three states are plowing ahead on tying graduation requirements and Common Core-aligned assessments, “a natural part of the transition from the adoption phase of Common Core to actually implementing the standards in a meaningful way.”

THE COMPLACENCY GAP
Sick of hearing about the achievement gap? Fordham's own Chester E. Finn, Jr. wants you to consider the complacency gap. When it comes to education...

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  1. The latest legislative assault against Common Core in Ohio is rumbling back to life this evening with what is supposed to be testimony from teachers who support repeal of the Common Core. Ahead of this testimony, the Chillicothe Gazette looked at some specific math problems aligned to Common Core and solicited responses on them from teachers and professors on both sides of the issue. Some good stuff here…much of which will not be part of tonight’s hearing. (Chillicothe Gazette)
     
  2. Discussion of yesterday’s story about the facilities funding set up of Imagine charter schools continues in the expected corners today. The Blade’s piece is typical of them all, with the blasting and the demanding. (Toledo Blade)
     
  3. Springfield City Schools approved a one-to-one technology plan for students in grades three through twelve. But those new laptops and software packages have to be teacher-tested first. This is a story about that. Apparently, there was “a lot of oohing and ahhing going on” during the training sessions last week. (Springfield News-Sun)
     
  4. It is that time of year again: school district treasurers releasing their five-year funding forecasts. Canton City Schools continues to lose students – EdChoice vouchers are the main cited culprit – although the number of exiting students seems to be smaller than in the past. Interestingly, the district foresees the end of state “funding guarantees” in the near future and is attempting to adjust their budgeting accordingly. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  5. Speaking of school budgets,
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PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
The New York Times's Motoko Rich reports that some public charter school systems are implementing a new model of teacher preparation: residencies, similar to those in the medical field. The programs focus on practice over theory and match veteran educators with aspiring teachers in a structured mentorship. The piece offers a great look into the anxieties of new teachers and the critical importance of feedback from veteran mentors.

TENNESSEE MULLING COMMON CORE
In a recent interview with Chalkbeat, the Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Beth Harwell, suggested that the state might be on its way to dropping Common Core. However, her spokesperson’s claim that “Tennessee—and not the federal government—knows what is best for Tennesseans” would seem to suggest that the Speaker isn’t aware of what the standards actually do. 

THE DANGERS OF BIAS
At Education Week, Darius D. Prier asks how educators can address stereotypes and ensure safety and equality for students inside and outside of schools. Prier recommends that schools incorporate current-day race issues into the curriculum, along with other ideas for preventing hip-hop culture from being conflated with criminality.

DROPPING OUT IS HARD TO DO
This weekend, the Wall Street Journal examined the American undergraduate dropout rate and uncovered a startling truth: According to data compiled by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, almost one-third of the students who matriculated in a U.S. college in 2012 did not return the following year. Lots of steps...

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At his confirmation hearing in 2009, Senator Lamar Alexander famously told Arne Duncan that “President-elect Obama has made several distinguished cabinet appointments, but in my view of it all, I think you are the best.” Duncan had already made statements indicating a willingness to embrace charter schools and break with the unions over teacher evaluations—sentiments not typically expressed by Democratic secretaries of education. And on many issues, Secretary Duncan has not disappointed, regularly pushing a pro-education-reform line, especially via his bully pulpit.

Most intriguing about Secretary Duncan—from my perspective at least—was his early embrace of the theory of “tight-loose” federalism. As he put it in 2012,“ the federal government should be tight on goals,” but state and local leaders should decide how to attain them. “Local leaders, not us, know their children and communities best—to try to micromanage 100,000 schools from Washington would be the height of arrogance,” he said.

Indeed it would be. But trying to micromanage 100,000 schools from Washington is precisely what Duncan has been doing.

In fact, Duncan’s greatest failure—on par with politicizing the Common Core and trying to kill D.C.’s school voucher program—has been his unwillingness to follow through on the “loose” part of his “tight-loose” promise. It feels like there’s been no problem too big or too small for his Department of Education to tackle. This is particularly the case for his Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which has been a prime example of executive overreach and federal interference run amok for almost six...

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  1. We’re back after a short break, and there’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get right to it. The board chair of Fordham-sponsored Dayton Leadership Academy penned a guest column in the Dayton Daily News last Friday, highlighting signs of success for DLA students buried deep in this year’s report card data. Nice. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  2. Fordham’s Chad Aldis is quoted in a story from yesterday’s Dispatch, looking at the lease deals under which Imagine charter schools occupy the buildings in which they operate. There’s probably some more info required to make sense out of these numbers. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. I don’t want to argue causation, but just as soon as Gadfly Bites took its hiatus, a breakthrough occurred and the Reynoldsburg teachers strike ended. (ThisWeek News/Reynoldsburg News)
     
  4. The Big D took a look at the details of the new contract in Reynoldsburg – as far as they were known at the time – and tried to parse what this will mean for teachers (and students) for the next three years. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  5. There are still a few issues to work out in Reynoldsburg as teachers return to the classroom. Today’s article addresses the issue of when and how much teachers will be paid for days worked just before and just after the strike. Hint: it’s complicated. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  6. One concern that came to the fore before the end of the strike was that of student grades for the
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EIGHTY PERCENT OF LIFE IS JUST SHOWING UP
Chronic absenteeism is a huge and often overlooked problem in America's schools. A new Education Week op-ed finds that students who miss four or more days in their first month are unlikely to keep up with grade-level achievement standards. In one study, only 17 percent of chronically absent kindergartners and first graders achieved reading proficiency by third grade. 

DECLINING TEACHER PREP IN CALIFORNIA
Teacher preparation programs in California have seen a downturn in enrollment recently, particularly in high-need areas such as math and science. Figures released for the 2012–13 school year highlight a decline of nearly three-quarters from a peak of 77,000 in 200102. On the bright side, a growing number of ethnically diverse applicants are entering the profession. 

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Teachers in Waukegan, Illinois, are on strike for the seventh day, with no likely end in sight. The work stoppage has shuttered two dozens schools in the cityhometown of science-fiction great Ray Bradbury—which sits on Lake Michigan roughly forty miles north of Chicago. Federal mediators have been participating in the negotiations.

MUST READ
On the heels of Nick Confessore's epic treatment of the federal school lunch program, Chalkbeat has an incredible photo essay chronicling the food offerings at six Colorado charter schools. As the story explains, charters with larger populations eligible for free- or discounted-meals will often rely on district food sources; others emphasize locally sourced meat...

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The Education Trust has a proud and distinguished history. When the group got its start in the mid-1990s, achievement for poor and minority children was lagging, and the education policy community largely ignored their needs. Ed Trust changed all that with a single-minded focus on equity, hitched to the relatively new notion of school-level accountability.

By the late 1990s, achievement for poor, minority, and low-performing students started a meteoric rise, particularly in the states first to embrace accountability; by 2001, Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind act, a law Ed Trust largely designed. And in the early 2000s, achievement continued to climb for the children who had been “left behind,” especially in the late-adopter states. (This history is unpacked skillfully by Mark Schneider in this Fordham Institute report.) Low-income, low-achieving, and minority children are now reading and doing math two to three grade levels higher than they were in the mid-1990s, and Ed Trust deserves a ton of credit for that incredible progress.

But we all know that this progress came with some serious unintended consequences: Teaching to the test, narrowing of the curriculum, and benign neglect for children at the middle and top of the performance spectrum. One can argue that those trade-offs were worth it, but it’s hard to dismiss their existence. (As Schneider shows, it’s also clear that the payoff from NCLB-style accountability was dissipating by the late 2000s.)

One of the worst repercussions, in my view, was that this approach to accountability was incredibly...

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